Over the last decade or so of my life, since moving out of my parent’s home and having to fend for myself financially in the world, I think its fair to say my opinion of landlords has over time become more harsh and critical. In the real world, they’re often a distillation of the worst aspects of capitalism, the idea that if you already have large amounts of capital to start out with, you can afford to generate more capital without having to really work for it, by purchasing high demand or bulk sale items, and selling them at a profit to those who don’t have the up front capital to make those same purchasing choices. Landlords don’t create anything of value, they simply make use of the fact they can already afford to own more than one home, to generate a profit. They make their money by already having money, not by providing an inherent service.
For Rent landlords allow their tenants to pay off their mortgages, plus make a profit on top. Renters pay a premium for a place to live, generating no long term assets out of the arrangements, while landlords see their mortgage slowly paid off, or money deposited into their bank account every month, with nary a finger to lift in the process. They make housing more scarce artificially, with a preference for homes sitting empty rather than being occupied by those in need but without funds, and make the buyers market for homes more crowded and unaffordable in the process. Landlords make a living off of the need of those without substantial up front capital to find somewhere to live. They’re not contributing to society in a meaningful way.
Obviously not all landlords, I get that, but as a general rule of thumb landlords make their money from already having capital and scraping profit off the top from others. I’m not a fan of the overall concept. Landlords profit off the poor, exploiting the fact their only option is to pay month to month with no sizable deposit, making the trade off that someone else gets the long term benefits of property ownership the renter is funding.
For the last several years, my harsh feelings towards real world landlords have also been applied to Tom Nook, the tanuki landlord of the Animal Crossing universe. When you move into town he sets you up with a home, sure, but he drops a loan on you right out the gate to pay off that house, and the second you pay off your loan he upgrades your house without asking in order to drop an even bigger loan on your head. He goes out of his way to make becoming debt free as lengthy a process as possible, dropping new fees on you as soon as you’re paid off, and perhaps even worse he owns the only business in town where you can reliably make any money. He controls the economy, and renting your home from someone who is your boss at work just isn’t a healthy setup for anyone involved. It’s too much control over your life.
But, and I hate to admit this, my feelings towards Tom Nook have actually softened recently, in large part due to the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the game’s proximity to the Coronavirus outbreak and its impacts on the real world housing market in the UK and US.
So, let’s start with what has changed with Nook specifically. In New Horizons, Tom Nook is a landlord much less proactive about saddling you with additional debt without your consent. Sure, when you first arrive on his deserted island he gives you a bill for the flight, your new phone, and your starting tent. That’s fair enough, you opted to receive those as part of taking a package trip with his airline to the island. This first bill is pretty tiny, able to be paid off in the first couple of hours of playing. However, what’s different in New Horizons is that once you pay off that first loan, he doesn’t automatically set you up with a new home, or a new bill. He explains that you are now debt free, if you wish to upgrade your house again you can, here’s the debt you’ll incur if you want that, but until then you’re totally free of debt. You’re free to live rent free on this beautiful island, scavenging fruit from the trees for food, and never needing to work again in your life. No council tax fees, no medical fees, no water or electricity costs, simply a forever home, free of debt, within hours.
On top of that, if you do decide to upgrade to a house, he goes out of his way to explicitly tell you that he will forever set the interest rate of your loan at 0%, and will never chase you up to pay off your loan faster. You could take that loan, never pay it off, and he will never check in to ask you when you plan to make another repayment. You’re renting to own, you will eventually own your own home rather than just paying him to live in it. He even points out in a conversation about offering free crafting classes that his financial planner is getting frustrated that he’s starting to turn down opportunities to squeeze more profit from his isolated communities.
Tom Nook in New Horizons legitimately seems to be a changed man. Sure he’s a landlord still, but given the real world state of landlords right now, I think we could all do infinitely worse than Tom Nook in the housing market.
For a little real world context, I am writing this during the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak, a few days into the UK’s nationwide lockdown. All non essential workers are being told to stay at home for the next three weeks, gatherings of more than two people have been banned, and police are on the streets enforcing the lockdown with heavy fines. While many companies have pivoted during this time to allowing staff to work from home, other companies and staff don’t have the luxury of keeping a regular income source while the country is locked down like this. Workers on zero hour contracts, self employed workers, and those working for companies that are non essential but cannot pivot to remote working are in a difficult position, in many cases facing the prospect of losing their jobs, or not being able to get any work hours logged and seeing no income. For many, the Coronavirus lockdown means no ability to pay their rent or bills.
Now, if you’re a home owner in the UK or US, you’re probably going to be fine. Both Governments are in the process of implementing freezes on mortgages, so those owning homes can have a few months break if needed to find a new job, or wait for hours to return, without the looming threat of having to pay rent they can’t afford. However, the situation is looking less clear for those renting homes from landlords.
If you’ve been on Twitter at all in the past few days, you’ll see countless posts of emails and texts sent from landlords to renters, making clear that rent payments are not to stop during this time. Landlords angrily asserting that the virus is no excuse for late payments, that renters should have more in savings to weather this kind of unexpected event, and basically just considering renters lazy if this catastrophic shake up to the jobs market has impacted their ability to stay afloat. No compassion on show, just a fury that their source of income might dry up in the short term under highly unusual circumstances. Most renters live paycheck to paycheck, and landlords are not okay about the fact this shake up to the workforce might cause payment delays from otherwise reliable tenants.
And you know what? Tom Nook would never do that, at least in New Horizons. Tom Nook would be the landlord sending you a text instead reminding you that it’s okay if you can’t pay your rent for a while, it’s not going to pile up any months you don’t pay, and you’re not going to face threats of eviction. You’ve already got enough on your plate with all the fear going around right now. He wants to make sure you’re okay, and that you’re not worried that you’re going to get kicked out during a lockdown.
I used to give Tom Nook a lot of hassle, but I guess he’s proven me wrong. If there is such a thing as a good landlord, Tom Nook is fast becoming the perfect example to point to. If more landlords were like Tom Nook, I’d probably feel a lot less animosity towards them.